NARY a day goes by without news of someone falling victim to phone scammers. And the response we often see is of disbelief that there are still people who are unaware of such tactics. Scams have been around for ages, but advanced communication technology has given scammers their most powerful weapon — anonymity.
They can pretend to be police, customs or court officers over the phone or on social media, having the aura of unquestionable authority that resides in those entrusted with upholding the law.
Any scam victim story always ends the same way; nobody else besides the scammers and the victim knew what was going on before it was reported to the police.
Perhaps increasing the frequency and quality of face-to-face human interaction in society can be the antidote to the anonymous venom of scammers.
For example, it would be refreshing to read about a bank officer who thwarted a scammer simply by asking an elderly would-be victim why he was transferring all his money to another account that was not in his name.
It is unlikely that anyone will accuse bank officers of being nosy simply because they ask questions before approving transfers of a large amount of money.
Perhaps this is the reason why we never read about people conned into transferring money they have in their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) account; the tight withdrawal procedures EPF employs will surely expose such scams.
Imagine how an EPF officer will react if a contributor told him that “a police officer called and told me to transfer all my money to some accounts he had provided”.
Then imagine how many millions of ringgit would not have fallen into the scammers’ hands if banks had been more alert to people emptying their accounts out of the blue.
Sure, people have the right to do whatever they want with their money, but wouldn’t it be nice to prevent them from becoming victims of scams just by asking simple questions?
If they still want to transfer all their money into an unknown account after being told of scam victims who had done the same, the bank can highlight it in the media if it really turns out to be a scam.
It is human nature to deposit money at a bank that looks after its customers’ safety, and such stories can prove that it had tried to prevent scammers from succeeding, thus winning the public’s trust.
Not everyone knows the number to call when one is feeling suicidal, but we have organisations providing counselling for those in that situation.
However, there are no specific telephone numbers for those who receive calls from people posing as police officers telling them to transfer money to avoid legal action.
It is easy to just say that the victims should have known better than to trust unknown people claiming to be from the authorities, but fires would have razed buildings if emergency numbers were not provided and made known to the public.
Detractors may say that a hotline would not be effective because so far those who had fallen victims did not notify anybody about their situation until it was too late.
However, it could be that they did not tell anybody because they did not know where to turn to as there were no numbers to call in such situations.
This is like the Schrödinger’s cat. Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger constructed an imaginary experiment with a cat in 1935 to demonstrate how simple misinterpretations of quantum theory can lead to absurd results that do not match what is happening in the real world.
It would be better to provide a hotline to would-be victims so that they can let the cat out of the bag before it is too late.
The writer is a Kuala Terengganu-based independent journalist